DIY Musicians: How to Balance Creativity With Business

Posted by Anthony Cerullo on Jan 7, 2016 07:00 AM

Balancing_a_chair.jpgImage via Wikimedia Commons

Light versus dark. Peace versus war. Luke versus Darth Vader. Pizza versus salad. The battle between good and evil is one that has raged on and will continue to rage on. We may never see a victor on either side, but for now, the best we can do is find a healthy balance.

Cliches aside, the conflict regarding creativity and business is no different. Oftentimes, the two realms are seen as opposing forces, struggling to keep the other down. The stereotypical businessman hates creativity due to its lack of focus, direction, and frankly, profit. Creatives hate business for its uptight, slicked-back, consumerist ideals. One can argue the differences all day, but the fact is neither would succeed without the help of the other. If you want to run a successful band, you must be creative enough to write good material, yet that material is useless without a business plan to get an audience for it.

The trouble many DIY musicians run into is balancing these two aspects. It can be very easy to get lost on either side, but with the right approach, your band can be equal parts fun and funds.

Start small

You're ambitious. You want to write that groundbreaking, three-hour-long rock opera in a month, and hit the ground running on a worldwide stadium tour, right? Hey, everybody has big dreams. Especially musicians. Big dreams are wonderful; in fact, they're essential for success. Without an end goal, what's the point?

But sometimes, artists tend to absorb that dream in a fashion that's a bit too robust for their appetites. This creates an overwhelming sense of responsibility, which could foster unnecessary stress. Stress has no place in balance, so get rid of it. Take your big goal, and break it up into smaller, easily obtainable goals. Need some songs to perform at shows? Get into the habit of writing regularly – even if it's just 10 minutes each morning – then focus on a few songs that come out of your practice and make them something you're truly proud of. Don’t just spit out a bunch of two-chord jams just so you have something to play. Need to book gigs? Focus on smaller, realistic venues that will get you exposure and develop your brand.

The point of breaking up tasks like this is removing the stress of a monstrous end goal. When you have a clear mind, you can see the creative aspects of your band more clearly, as well as craft a strong business plan.

Organize, organize, organize

In this age of technology, organization is easier than ever. Use that iPhone you have for something other than Spotify or Tinder, and open up that calendar app. Every day, dictate half of your day to matters of business and half to matters of creativity. Perhaps you wake up flowing with musical ideas in the morning. Use that time to tap into your artistic side and save your evening hours for promoting, booking, merchandising, etc. You can switch it up, too. Maybe three hours of practice, three of business, two of more practice, two of business… you get the point. Just keep some written log of what you need to do. It may seem unnecessary, but the fact is that this is a business you're running (albeit a creative one), and you should treat it like one.

Have meetings with your fellow bandmates on a regular basis to make sure everyone is filled in on the various aspects of the operation. Write down thoughts and ideas, and in general, just have a plan to keep you on track. It will help keep that balance of creativity and business that I keep talking about.

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Have fun on tour, but network

Many musicians use tour as a time to unwind. They believe the business aspect of the band is finished. Gigs are booked, merchandise is ordered, and shows have been promoted. While that may be true, your tour shouldn't mark the end of the balance. When you're not onstage unleashing that creative force, you should be out on the floor shaking hands, walking around the festival or venue making connections, and carrying yourself as a walking advertisement for your band.

Touring is unique, as it allows you to physically meet people in different locations around the world. You may think that hiding in the corner nursing that beer makes you look like the cool, unapproachable, troubled artist, but that won't get you anywhere on the business side. You don't have to go too far out of your comfort zone, but at least be approachable, because you never know what kind of person may be a profitable opportunity.

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Step away

There's no question that if you're serious about making it in the music industry, you should have a large chunk of your life devoted to the cause. That being said, the timeless adage "too much of a good thing" rings true here. Balancing life with the band will, in turn, help balance business and creativity. Have you ever had writer's block or had a problem stump you, only to come back after a break and suddenly have the solution? The brain can only handle so much, and it's important you step away from both music and business for a little bit to recharge. Pick a hobby, read this list to relax, do anything that will take your mind off the band at least for a little while. If you let the band consume you, your creativity will be drained and the business side of things will only frustrate you more. It's easy to have work become the main priority; we see it all the time. But you should work to live, not the other way around.

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Life's dictated by duality. It goes far beyond just creativity and business. We can see it everywhere, and the complexities are endless. Opposites tend to attract, and neither side should be taken more seriously than the other. Embrace your creativity to whatever extent you'd like, but always make sure to balance it with a healthy dose of the logical business mind. Not only will it be good for your band, but it'll be a good exercise to keep a healthy, open mind towards other facets of your life.


Anthony Cerullo is an avid keyboard player, writer, and world traveler. He has spent the past few years touring the US in bands, and now finds himself exploring the musical spectrum that various countries of the world offer.

Topics: Musician Success Guide, Strategies for Success


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